Review: Big Crow (Brave New Word Theatre Company)

bravenewwordVenue: Pulse Group Theatre (Redfern NSW), Feb 21 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Barry Walsh
Cast: Amylea Griffin, Charles Jones, Ben Maclaine, Jodine Muir, Liam Smith
Image by David Hooley

Theatre review
Many of us have felt the urge to kill our bosses, at one time or another. We may be able to operate under authority on most days, but human nature has its limits when kept under tight control. Tommy and Albert were Londoners brought to Australia in the 1930’s. Fed up with slave-like conditions, they decide to capture their employer in an effort to turn their fortunes around. Based on a true story, Mark Langham’s Big Crow features five contrasting personalities, each with their own distinct proclivities. The play sets up a fascinating context for their interactions, and even though the stakes at play are high, the sparks that fly are minute and momentary.

It is a plot that struggles to find focus, with competing narratives fighting for our attention. We are intrigued by the theatrical temperament of its characters, but their individual stories all seem too vague and under-cooked. What they reveal of themselves only teeter on the brink of something enticing and salacious, never really bringing us to a satisfying epiphany. Director Barry Walsh’s attempts at manufacturing an atmosphere of violence and brutality helps provide some visceral drama to the piece, and although some of the acting is convincing (Charles Jones and Jodine Muir are its saving grace), the show offers little that would allow us to connect.

When Peg discovers her husband tied up, about to be slaughtered, she reacts with an unexpected sadistic delight. The show is on, and like Peg, we wait for something to happen that would deliver thrills and enlightenment. When our expectations are not met, we can look back for what might have been missed, or we can move forward in search of the inevitable next opportunity.

Review: Resolution (Brave New Word Theatre Company)

bravenewwordVenue: Pulse Group Theatre (Redfern NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 6, 2016
Playwright: Luke Holmes
Director: Sascha Hall
Cast: Peter Bass, Deirdre Campbell, Lauren Lloyd Williams, Jacqueline Marriott, Nicholas Starte
Image by David Hooley

Theatre review
The CEO of a media giant passes away, and names her daughter heir to the company. Suddenly thrust into the limelight, Abigail has to deal with her mother’s death as well as unexpected revelations of the inconvenient inheritance. The story is about coming to terms with one’s parent’s failings, and even though Resolution is guided by strong ideas that most are able to relate to, the script is dry, with few opportunities for effective comedy or drama to take hold.

The narrative is needlessly complex, with superfluous characters and numerous scene changes that the simple style of direction struggles to bring clarity to. Jacqueline Marriott is a likeable leading lady, but her work lacks the gravity required by the role, and even though her commitment is faultless, there is little in her portrayal of a high powered corporate executive that is convincing. An improvement to costume and hair design might be helpful. The charismatic Nicholas Starte has a more straightforward part to play as Abigail’s beau Cameron, impressing us with strong dynamic range and a theatrical effervescence that brings flashes of life to the stage.

We may not relate to Abigail’s position as a leader of hundreds, but we understand the painful feelings that can exist between any parent and child. There are always things a mother could have done better, or words a father could have said with more kindness. As children grow into adults, and as we start seeing the world from older eyes, scars can begin to be erased. No one wishes for any bundle of joy to be contaminated, but babies can only be taught by the imperfect; innocence will be lost and disappointments will arise. We can remain idealistic, but the turbulence of life can never be eradicated.

5 Questions with Jacqueline Marriott and Nicholas Starte

Jacqueline Marriott

Jacqueline Marriott

Nicholas Starte: If you could be a student at Hogwarts, would you still want to be an actor?
Jacqueline Marriott: Yes but only because I’m a strange human and am not crazy about HP… bad muggle.

2 chickens meet at a bar, one says to the other “I hear you’re in a play call Resolution, why should I come along?” What about the show would convince an alcoholic chicken to come along?
Oh so tough… maybe I’d tell the alcoholic chicken that there are five very charming chooks to check out on the stage. Chicks dig alliteration.

What is your character’s spirit animal?
A swan. Super graceful and has everything together… above the waterline.

Do you have a favourite pre-show ritual?
Yes, two – painting my nails in the colour suited to my character and binding my script with a ribbon that I am only allowed to choose once the show is up and running (actually it usually happens around closing for me)… I make sure the size, colour and texture of the ribbon matches the colour/feel of the show I’ve just finished. I am growing an ever colourful library of much loved, cried upon, yelled at and ultimately bound scripts. At a glance I only see the ribbons but I recognise each one as the gamut of experience it holds tight. The ribbon decision also is definitely only allowed to be made well into (after) the process too because the choice changes so wildly throughout. I think in colours. I am a dag. I also gave you a pre and a post ritual because I’m a colourful dag.

When do your super powered acting skills come in handy in every day life?
In my other job as a Captain Starlight – lots and lots of super powers employed there!

Nicholas Starte

Nicholas Starte

Jacqueline Marriott: If you could sit opposite yourself as a child of 7, what is the most important question you would ask yourself?
Nicholas Starte: Why don’t we hang out more?

When was the last time you cried?
I don’t cry, my heart is made of stone… I’m currently receiving treatment.

What is your one favourite line of the whole play? Can be your own, can be another character’s…
Easiest question ever. It’s a tie between all of Rosie’s lines about balls.

Why acting? Succinct answer please!
Because I refuse to grow up and stop playing make believe.

If not acting, then what?
A lion!

Jacqueline Marriott and Nicholas Starte are appearing in Resolution by Luke Holmes.
Dates: 26 July – 6 August, 2016
Venue: The Actor’s Pulse

Review: Grace (Pulse Group Theatre)

GRACE 1Venue: Pulse Group Theatre (Redfern NSW), July 7 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Craig Wright
Director: Billy Milionis
Cast: Joseph Addabbo, Dudley Hogarth, Jeremy Shadlow, Nikki Waterhouse

Theatre review
Fanatically religious people are probably the most grating of all. Their narrow-mindedness and refusal to engage in intelligent conversation are frustrating, and their need to convert others’ beliefs to match their own is most infuriating, and sometimes dangerous. At the centre of Craig Wright’s Grace is Steve, an evangelical Christian man who relies on a blind faith that reveals itself to be nothing more than stupidity. Wright’s story is surprisingly textured, but much of the dialogue comes across cheesey and tends also, to be quite long-winded. His characters are initially interesting, but they prove to be too simple and obvious, and his humour lacks an acerbic bite that the themes require.

The production is not a sufficiently dynamic or imaginative one, but it is clear to see that focus is placed squarely on the craft of acting, and the cast is accomplished on many fronts. Dudley Hogarth appears in only two scenes but is memorable for the intense sentimentality that he moves us with. The performances are intent on finding authenticity, but guided by a need to establish a thorough naturalism, scenes can be uncommunicative even though an atmosphere of honesty is always present. Actors often look like they are performing at each other, and without a more presentational style, the audience is not consistently engaged. There is a lot of effort put into exploring emotions of characters, which often translates with too much self-indulgence. The cast seems to feel their stories powerfully, but they need to include us in those narratives, and not keep those ideas and poignancies to themselves. We might not be written into the text, but the audience is present, and we must be integrated further into the theatrical experience.

Like the “Christian Freaks” of the play, the production is lost in a single-mindedness that prevents us from getting closer. Like the zealots too, there is a passion on this stage that impresses. One of the messages in Grace is about diversity and plurality, and the importance of a generous spirit in our social lives. Congregating at the theatre remains an important element of any civilisation. For an hour or two, we are joined to find a moment of unity and peace, and hopefully leave with greater optimism about the world we temporarily occupy, but it is those on stage who have the greater responsibility of turning the mundane into magic, all in extraordinary style and exceptional grace.